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Title:  The Visibles

Author:  Sara Shepard

Published:  May 5, 2009

Page Count:  336

Genre:  Women’s Fiction

My Rating:  3.5/5

The only piece of information that Summer Davis takes away from her years at Peninsula Upper School — one of the finest in the Brooklyn Heights-to-Park Slope radius, to quote the promotional materials — is the concept that DNA defines who we are and forever ties us to our relatives. A loner by circumstance, a social outcast by nature, and a witty and warm narrator of her own unimaginable chaos by happenstance, Summer hangs on to her interest in genetics like a life raft, in an adolescence marked by absence: her beautiful, aloof mother abandons the family without a trace; her father descends into mental illness, haunted by a lifelong burning secret and abetted by a series of letters that he writes to make sense of his feelings; her best friend Claire drifts out of Summer’s life in a breeze of indifference, feigned on both sides; and her older brother fluctuates between irrational fury and unpredictable tenderness in an inaccessible world of his making.

Uncertain of her path and unbalanced by conflicting impulses toward hope and escape, Summer stays close to her father while attending college, taking him to electro-shock therapy treatments and trying to make sense of his inscrutable past. Upon his departure for a new and possibly recovered life, Summer begins to question the role of genetics and whether she is destined to live out her family’s legacy of despair. But it is only when Summer decides to leave New York herself and put off a promising science career to take care of her great-aunt Stella — bedrock of the family and bastion of folksy wisdom, irreverent insight, and Sinatra memorabilia in a less-than-scenic part of the Pennsylvanian countryside — that Summer begins to learn that her biography doesn’t have to define her…and that her future, like her DNA, belongs to her alone.

In a novel consumed by the uncertainties of science, the flaws of our parents, and enough loss and longing to line a highway, Sara Shepard is a penetrating chronicler of the adolescence we all carry into adulthood: how what happens to you as a kid never leaves you, how the fallibility of your parents can make you stronger, and how being right isn’t as important as being wise. From the backwoods of Pennsylvania to the brownstones of Brooklyn Heights, The Visibles investigates the secrets of the past, and the hidden corners of our own hearts, to find out whether real happiness is a gift or a choice.

You know what, I truly wanted to love this book.  I so expected to get caught up in Summer’s life, to get wrapped up in her emotions and feelings and the stuff she was dealing with and just FEEL it with her.  Know what I mean?  When a character becomes so real to you that they almost feel like one of your actual friends – you care about what happens to them, you feel deeply when things don’t go their way, and you can feel their emotions deep down in the pit of your stomach.

I didn’t.  I didn’t feel this way about Summer, and I’m sad about that.  Everything about The Visibles told me I would love it… I mean, I am a total softie for these family drama type books – parents suck, and the main character’s life is rough because of it, the writing pulls at your heartstrings, etc.  And this book had all those elements, but unfortunately it just did not work for me as perfectly as I wanted it to.  The Visibles was a good book, don’t get me wrong.  I felt like the characterizations were spot-on and the writing was really quite wonderful.  But Summer annoyed me.  She was so caught up in her past, so obsessed with helping everyone else, and so self-pitying that I just could not appreciate her.  I hate that, I really do – I tried so hard to like her… but I could not.

I don’t want this review to be totally negative, though, because like I said briefly above:  The Visibles IS a good book.  It is a book that I enjoyed, the entire way through.  It’s a book that I was sucked into from the beginning.  It is the type of book I can easily breeze through in a day, because the writing is so fluid and well-crafted.  One thing Shepard did which I always enjoy is skip entire periods of time between sections.  That way the reader gets the benefit of finding out what happens to the characters over the course of that time without having to read long descriptions as the time goes by.

I definitely enjoyed The Visibles. I was disappointed when it didn’t live up to my expectations but it was still a good, solid novel.  I also think that Sara Shepard is an excellent writer and an author with awesome talent with a lot to contribute.

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